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Ancient Egypt

Flax was cultivated in Mespoptania, Assyria, and Babylonia, but Egypt was known as the "land of linen." Linen was woven at least six thousand years ago; fragments of Egyptian cloth have been dated to 4500 B.C. Tomb models, paintings, and texts, as well as the writings of Herodotus and Pliny, have supplied many details about the ancient industry. There were centers for linen production operated by the state using slave labor.

Facts of Ancient Egyptian Linen:

  • Mummification, practiced from the first dynasty (2920-2770 B.C), required mountains of linen for bandage.
  • Different grades in cloth were made. The higher one's place on the social scale, the finer the weave in one's mummy wrappings- sometimes over 500 threads to an inch. As much as 300 yards of cloth was used to wrap one mummy.
  • Linen was the universal clothing fabric, and some extremely sheer versions have been recorded in paintings.
  • Flax was considered to be a symbol of devine light and purity and it was the only fiber worn by priests.
  • Egypt exported many yards of linen for sails. The flax retted in the Nile was reputed to be much softer than other kinds, and sails did not wear out from abrasion as quickly if made from Egyptian linen.
  • Linen cloth was used as payment for labor, as trade-goods and as gifts and tribute to palace and temple.
  • Linen varies in natural color from green to brownish, but the ancient Egyptians preferred white linen, which was achieved by bleaching (which was mens' work).
  • All classes wore linen clothing. The higher one ranked in class, the more layers he or she wore. The men of the lowest class rank wore only the loin cloth, which was worn as underwear by all classes, men and women.

Kathie Richardson
NDSU Library
Fargo, ND 58105

Last updated: 16.01.2008

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The NDSU Library Agriculture Network Information Center Flax Institute of the United States

Flax Institute of the United States